Since the beginning of the refugee crisis it is up to the cities carrying most of the weight and taking most of the responsibilities. Some of them do it only with little enthusiasm but there are quite some who do it with great ambition. This is the case of two European cities: Berlin in Germany and Amsterdam in the Netherlands, which built a partnership aiming at coming up with collective answers and a common vision to tackle this situation.

Last week, OBESSU attended a conference on Education and Work for Refugees and Migrants in Berlin, Germany. We were invited to give our inputs and to provide the school students perspective. Moreover, we took it as an opportunity to learn more about the current situation and tendencies on this topic, foreseeing the policy paper we are preparing as background document for future advocacy work on this matter. 

One of the highlights of the meeting was the visit to a “welcoming class” for young refugees in a regular public school in Berlin. The main goal of these “welcoming classes” is to make students more comfortable with German language. Besides of language courses, the focus is mainly on subjects where verbal communication is not crucial, such as theatre, sports and art activities. The teachers we met during the visit had a great energy and willingness to teach and carrying out the activities, showing us the importance of having motivated people dealing with these types of projects.

Even though the conference was trying to answer to questions such as “What can the European Union do to help the European cities?”, we believe that it is fundamental to focus on the needs of people affected by these situations, listening to them and establishing bottom-up processes rather than a top-down ones. Before asking to the EU institutions how they can support the different actors dealing with refugees and migrants’ integration, we should first understand what we need as organisations working on this field.

This comment was made several times during the conference and most of the attendants could only agree. In the upcoming phases, the organisation coordinating the partnership promised to involve more refugees and to give them a central role in the closing conference in Amsterdam in May 2017. OBESSU is looking forward to seeing this happening and we will do our part in this process.

Written by Ferre Windey, OBESSU Board member